A tremendously popular program, which allows free access to a clinical psychologist during the COVID-19 pandemic, is undergoing some changes to help deal with the growing demand that it’s receiving.
“Over the last four months, we have taken over 1,000 calls from people in B.C.,” Dr. Lesley Lutes of UBC Okanagan told Global News on Wednesday.
According to Lutes, the COVID-19 pandemic has both exposed and exacerbated the notable need for mental health services.
“Just dealing with general anxiety, concern to more significant things like domestic violence, suicide risk and opioid overdose,” Lutes said.
That need inspired Lutes to partner with the B.C. Psychological Association in April to start the Psychological First Aid telephone hotline program.
The program connects those experiencing mental health issues in the Okanagan with a registered clinical psychologist for free.
Lutes says some changes have been made to the program to help it evolve and meet growing demand.
The program will now offer a more detailed, evidenced-based care approach to mental health and well-being.
The hotline will now go online for digital face-to-face counselling by offering therapy sessions for anyone in B.C., with no referral.
“We are offering internet-based, cognitive behavioural therapy . . . through an online program called Kelty’s Key,” Lutes said.
Some of the changes Lutes has implemented to the program are being modelled after an already existing walk-in clinic at UBC Okanagan that is available to staff, students and the public.
“You work with a doctoral student in clinical psychology and a registered psychologist to have six to eight sessions online,” said Lutes, “with the same therapist to help you manage things like stress anxiety depression and substance.”
Kelowna’s Canadian Mental Health Association executive director applauds the effort and changes to the program.
“COVID has had a significant impact on people’s lives and a negative impact on people’s mental health,” said Shelagh Turner.
“Counselling supports are incredibly important for people to have a strong foundation so that they can lead meaningful and productive lives.”
For more information on how you can access the free service, visit psychologists.bc.ca.